Sunday, January 13, 2013

When White Is Right But Oh So Wrong

I read an article about black celebrities who've lightened their skin, and I’m not going to lie—I thought someone must be mistaken. I looked at the before and after photos and thought to myself, “Nah, this can’t be true. These differences have to be the result of Photoshop and make-up. Who would do this? It sounds painful and dangerous, and anyway, isn’t the kind of thinking that leads to stuff like this passé?” Then I forgot all about it.

Until today, when I read that a study conducted by the University of Cape Town found that approximately thirty-five percent of South African women bleach their skin, citing the desire for “white skin.”

South African musician Nomasonto Mnisi appeared on a BBC special about this topic, saying she just wants to be “light skinned.” She’s still black on the inside, she says, she just wants to look lighter on the outside. She told the BBC “It’s not about black or white. It’s about my skin being light … I have black kids. My man is black. I’m white for black.”

I don’t know what type of concoctions the black celebrities in question are using to lighten their skin, but according to the BBC, the bleaching agents used by women in South Africa can cause burns, skin damage, and cancer. Many of these products are illegal but still for sale.

Watching the BBC video, I was reminded of the Victorian ladies who applied face powder made with arsenic and of the Egyptian women who used face powder made with mercury. It’s beyond disturbing to think that in this day and age women are still poisoning themselves to achieve some crazy ideal of beauty. It’s upsetting to me as a woman in general and as a woman of color in particular.

This evening I watched Star Parker, founder of the Center for Urban Renewal (CURE) on Huckabee expressing her outrage about All My Babies’ Mommas. (Apparently, Fox news has gotten a hold of this story, and they are not letting it go for nothing.) Parker was arguing that the show is rewarding bad behavior, and I don’t know, maybe I’m just wrong, but I can’t take it that seriously. Who in the world is going to be looking at Shawty Lo as a role model? These are real people, and I don’t want to disparage their family, but let’s be serious. Most people planning to tune in to All My Babies’ Mommas are probably doing so to make fun of this clan and their drama—not because they see this lifestyle as aspirational. So, while I can admire Parker’s passion, and I’m in no way indifferent to the ills that plague the black family, I just can’t get too excited about this dumb show or what it supposedly says about black people.

But the message that’s sent when a woman of color—a beautiful women of color—risks her health to look “whiter,” because she’s been told, and believes, that dark skin is ugly? Ah man… that’s something I can be outraged about, even while I’m heartbroken. Where’s the damn petition for that?

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